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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Vizio’s Townsend Leads a TV Co.’s Transformation

Vizio Holding Corp. (NYSE: VZIO) CFO Adam Townsend studied biology at UCLA. Little did he know those studies would be handy in finance.

The CFO, who joined the Irvine-based TV and media company in May 2020, has had an interesting career path that included a major pivot away from an initial goal of becoming a doctor, to equity research analyst, a move to in-house work for companies such as CBS Corp. and Showtime Networks Inc. and, most recently, helping take Vizio public earlier this year.

The work was recognized by the Business Journal late last month at the Irvine Marriott during the annual CFO of the Year Awards, in which Townsend received an honor in the public company category.

Vizio is currently valued at around $3.8 billion.

Career Switch

Townsend, who hails from a suburb of Sacramento, grew up thinking success meant being a doctor or a lawyer, so he pursued a bachelor’s in biology with the goal of becoming a physician. His last two years in school he worked at UCLA Medical Center and heard on repeat how demanding the job was and if he had other interests, to pursue them.

Townsend had already become “mesmerized” by the stock market and business trends, so he finished his degree and began a new career from scratch.

He took a call center job doing trades for brokers for about two years before he was accepted in 1997 into a management training program at Franklin Templeton Investments, and continued working his way to equity research analyst at JPMorgan before jumping in-house to E-Trade Financial Corp. as managing director of corporate strategy and investor relations.

In 2008, he accepted a position as executive vice president of investor relations at CBS, which moved him into the world of media and entertainment.

Similar Skill Set

In some ways, starting from scratch didn’t necessarily mean starting over when it came to skill set.

“I think the type of training of the analytical mindset, the scientific method, the finding facts and supporting of facts has always shaped the way I’ve approached any of these roles in finance,” Townsend said of how he’s found his biology studies useful.

It’s that background that’s made him approach problem solving a bit differently than perhaps those classically trained in finance, he said.

“I like to pride myself as being a strategic partner and that I’m not just a numbers guy and counting the beans,” he added.

That’s one of the reasons founder and CEO William Wang tapped him for the position.

“Adam’s exceptional record of financial operational experience within content, advertising and streaming-based businesses—along with over a decade of media industry analysis—makes him a great addition to the existing talent at Vizio,” Wang said at the time of Townsend’s hiring.

Changing Times

The CFO came to Vizio at a time of great change.

Not only was the company ready to go public, the media and entertainment industry has been in the midst of major shifts in consumer and advertising trends.

Townsend would know. He came to Vizio from Showtime where he was executive vice president, chief financial officer and strategy. Before that, he spent a decade with Showtime parent CBS, last holding the position of executive vice president of corporate finance and investor relations.

“If you go back and look at the broader consumer behavior, we’d seen for a number of years people moving out of the traditional distribution model. Obviously, you saw the rise of Netflix and a lot of different streaming services going back six, seven, eight years ago. And I think it was William’s view that the TV isn’t just a display panel; it’s basically a computer on the wall. It’s something you should be interacting with, searching for content [and] discovering content,” Townsend said.

A Connected Industry

The companies that get it right have the opportunity to move the dial for an industry with wide reach. It’s part of the reason why Townsend has liked working in the entertainment and media space for as long as he has.

“I think it’s a fascinating world of something that we all connect to in some way. Media content is a common social factor. It is something that creates culture. It is something that we all engage in, in some form. Whatever your tastes are, there’s something out there for you,” Townsend said.

Now, at Vizio, he’s on the distribution, as opposed to content creation, side of the business.

He sees himself and the company as operating from an agnostic perch.

“That neutrality is fun because, now, we can focus on the consumer experience, the picture quality, engagement with the device usability, search and quality of content. It just opens up a completely different side of the strategic direction than trying to worry about talent or ratings, and a business model that’s becoming more challenged,” he said.  

With streaming’s rise and the move toward digital advertising, Vizio’s next big act after years of proving itself as a hardware company with its TVs is to grow it’s Platform+ advertising business. In other words, not only sell TVs but monetize them beyond that initial device transaction.

Going public was less about raising money as it was a way of telling the Vizio story.

“That was really the reason to go public, [it] was to not only elevate the story of Vizio as just a TV or a soundbar company, but to have stock to attract talent and retain talent,” Townsend said.

Not Your Typical Roadshow

The CFO didn’t have much breathing room from the time he joined the company in May of last year.

By July the company brought in investment bankers to kick off the process of taking Vizio public.

While Townsend had experience with financial market transactions, he’d never been through the IPO process with a seat in-house at a company going public. And, he also never did under the conditions of 2020.  

“I didn’t expect to do it all on Zoom during a pandemic,” he said.

“We did that entire process on Zoom. I was never in the same room with my direct reports. Our lawyers, our bankers—the entire thing was done remotely, which was very atypical in a process that’s already intense to begin with. But it was really I think it was in some ways more efficient. Sessions were very focused. Only one person could talk at a time and everyone’s attentive. The camera’s on and everyone’s engaged.”

Daily 8 a.m. meetings for teams to provide updates on progress helped keep things on track and organized.

Next Chapter

Vizio began trading in late March, opening at $17.50. Shares last week were trading around $21 as Vizio’s business story continues its progression in one of the more fascinating examples of a company that sees its future quite clearly.  

“The team element of it really was what makes this all possible,” Townsend emphasized of the IPO process. “None of this happens without a team and I both inherited a fantastic team and we added to that team. The organization in total really stepped up to take Vizio into the next chapter of its evolution.” 

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